Tuesday 20 March 2018

Rising interest rates see Ulster games generate €20m spend

Four years ago only 107,000 people attended the province’s championships -“It was a wake-up call for Ulster GAA,” admits Ryan Feeney (pictured)
Four years ago only 107,000 people attended the province’s championships -“It was a wake-up call for Ulster GAA,” admits Ryan Feeney (pictured)


Ulster GAA officials estimate that their bumper provincial championship attendances this year have contributed in the region of €20m to the Northern Ireland economy.

It has already been a record-breaking season for the Ulster Council with attendances up 5.6 per cent on last year and 12.6 per cent on 2013 - and that's before this afternoon's final.

But the battle to get bums back on seats following the economic crash in 2011 has been a fierce one. Four years ago only 107,000 people attended the province's championships, the worst attendance figure in over 25 years.

"It was a wake-up call for Ulster GAA," admits their head of community and public affairs Ryan Feeney. "It resulted in a totally new approach to how we market our games. The bottom line is that we have already had 142,800 people attending our games thus far."

This has been achieved with a modest marketing budget of €75,000 per annum, a meagre sum when you consider that today's showpiece between Donegal and Monaghan could yield at least €860,000 in gate receipts alone.

"Eighty-four per cent of what we take in will go back to the counties and the clubs," Feeney adds. "So there are huge benefits everywhere and for the communities too. Three years ago Sheffield Hallam University conducted a survey on the value of major sporting events to the local economy and it is estimated that any game on this island with an attendance of 10,000-plus is worth £1m to businesses and tradespeople in the area. Based on that we would estimate that we have so far raised €20m for the hotels, shops, bars, restaurants and other businesses in our province in 2015. It's a significant amount and it's because people are coming back to our games."

Feeney dismissed the notion that the booming attendance figures are surprising considering the nature of some of the games over the past couple of seasons.

For instance, there were reports last week that Monaghan have trained against a 20-man team to ready themselves for the style that they will encounter this afternoon.

"I think that while people sometimes slate the quality of football on show, anyone who is there at our games can see that there is first-class entertainment, intense stuff, a fascinating game and a great atmosphere and people are still coming out," insists Feeney.

"Armagh and Donegal was a sell-out, for example, and they were treated to an exhibition by Donegal. Our games make for a good day out and I think we have a fine product."

Feeney said that a multi-dimensional approach to marketing their games has been the key to bringing supporters back.

"A new strategy was needed and the plan was put in place for the 2012 Championships that involved a completely fresh approach to marketing and ticket sales, with the first action being to reduce admission prices for the Championship."

Discounts of up to 33 per cent were given, incentives were offered for early ticket purchases which resulted in 70 per cent of this year's Ulster Championship tickets being sold in advance.

"Our robust marketing campaign then primarily concentrated on our online and social media channels that captured the colour, joy and striking imagery of the Ulster GAA Championship. We worked with the PROs of the various counties on this and it worked.

"We were rock bottom in 2011, and the money was just not there for many supporters. But there has been a total change in culture in just three years. In previous times most people would have bought tickets at the gate but they're committing much earlier now.

"Social media, web-based material and co-operation with the various county boards are the three key factors to our success. It's a united front, based on a template handed to us by Páraic Duffy."

Apart from increased gates, the council have made 4.27 million impressions on Facebook, 3.54 million on Twitter and there have been 177,000 page views on the Ulster GAA website with supporters looking at promotional material.

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